Live Webcast: Moving Forward with UN Reform
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Jan Eliasson, President of the United Nations General Assembly; Will Davis, Opening Remarks, Director, United Nations Information Centre; David Birenbaum, Moderator, Senior Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center; former U.S. Ambassador to the UN for UN Management and Reform.
This event was cosponsored by the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC).
Jan Eliasson, who presided over the World Summit held at United Nations Headquarters in New York from September 14-16, 2005, spoke about the recommendations of the sixtieth session of the General Assembly and advocated the development of multilateral approaches to global threats. He described the 2005 World Summit Outcome report as "the most ambitious document produced by the United Nations in twenty five years," and he focused his comments on the outcome of the general debate that took place in the ten days following the World Summit and subsequent progress that has been made.
The World Summit reviewed a range of proposals in the areas of development, security, human rights, and management reform, while also analyzing international progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Eliasson noted that perhaps the most significant outcome of the World Summit is the unambiguous consensus among Member States on the international community's collective responsibility to protect populations from crimes against humanity such as genocide and ethnic cleansing. He noted that the responsibility to protect doctrine, as agreed at the World Summit, has the power to serve not only as a reminder and a reference, but also as a means of enforcing the duty of states to protect their citizens. It provides a mandate, he said, upon which the international community can act, and consequently, it moves the policy towards a new norm of international law and relations.
Eliasson attempted to discredit the notion that the United Nations serves only small to medium size nations. All countries need the UN as a forum to develop coordinated responses to problems, such as the spread of AIDS and environmental degradation. Eliasson also addressed the proposal that the UN rely increasingly on voluntary funding as opposed to assessed funding. Although this proposal is not an urgent one, it will impact the operations of the UN at many levels. Eliasson expressed great concern that voluntary funding will deny the UN financial support needed to address issues not highlighted by the media, as well as the stability required for bodies such as the Peacebuilding Commission to complete their work on the ground.
Eliasson hopes to facilitate the General Assembly's shift toward a global parliament model that debates thematic issues rather than national interests. In order for the world's leaders to effectively combat the range of collective challenges addressed at the World Summit, Eliasson identified five priority areas for action:
Eliasson emphasized the importance of addressing the root causes of distress in post-conflict environments, in an effort to heal past wounds and help to prevent the reoccurrence of violence. He advocated strongly for the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, which was proposed in December 2004 by the United Nations High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. Designed to help societies transition from war to stability, the Peacebuilding Commission would be backed by a support office, a standing fund, and new police capacity for UN peacekeeping operations. The Peacebuilding Commission would serve not only to strengthen the Secretary-General's capacity for mediation, but also as the organizing mechanism to coordinate preventative and post-conflict activities. While the UN is close to reaching an agreement on the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission, Eliasson identified the question of membership as a sensitive issue.
International Convention on Terrorism
Recent terrorist activities have necessitated extensive collaboration among governments to develop a comprehensive convention against terrorism—not only to present a unified condemnation of terrorism, but also to fight terrorism with strategies that strengthen the international community. Eliasson stipulated that a breakthrough on counter-terrorism approaches would improve the standing of the United Nations in the world. He observed that the issue of resistance to occupation remains a difficult one, but he suggested that agreement could be reached on a definition that rules out terrorism—whatever the asserted justification.
Human Rights Council
The creation of a Human Rights Council would serve to reinforce the United Nations' human rights machinery and support the promotion of democracy and human dignity, specifically through the elimination of pervasive gender discrimination. Eliasson reported that the decision to establish the Human Rights Council is undergoing intense negotiation and that membership is a pivotal issue of contention. Recognizing that the debate cannot concentrate only around the views of those in New York, Eliasson intends to listen intently to the views of the human rights NGOs, with whom he will be meeting in Geneva.
Eliasson recognized that management reform is a critical component of balanced progress, which will ultimately generate greater international support for the United Nations as an organization. The reform issues addressed at the World Summit included increasing the UN's oversight capacity, updating all mandates older than five years, and overhauling rules and policies on budget, finance, and human resources so as to improve the efficiency of the UN in responding to current needs. But, issues discussed during the World Summit constitute only the beginning, and work is advancing on a comprehensive management reform agenda.
Development and ECOSOC Reform
Noting that the prospect of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 might already have been lost, Eliasson advocated a yearly review of the MDGs so as to maintain the international community's momentum toward achieving the eight goals. He highlighted the World Summit's proposal that by 2006, all developing countries should create comprehensive national strategies for achieving the MDGs with accelerated donor support, and he emphasized the connection between the MDGs and plans for revitalizing the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Reforms should enable the ECOSOC to follow-up on relevant outcomes of major United Nations conferences and develop a mechanism for monitoring Member States' progress toward fulfilling the MDGs.